Thecus W4810 review
An affordable Windows domain controller in a box, with good data backup and recovery features
Thecus's W4810 is a four-bay NAS appliance running Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials (WSSE R2). That means it can do a lot more than a basic enclosure: its capabilities include full Active Directory Primary Domain Controller (AD PDC) services, plus slick workstation backup and recovery features.
It runs on a speedy quad-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 CPU with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. There's no option to upgrade the memory, but we found that wasn't a problem, as the OS rarely used more than 2.6GB. There's also an internal 60GB SATA SSD, on which the OS resides, leaving the four main drive bays free for use.
Getting set up is easy: AD newbies will appreciate the wizard-based installation procedure, which walks you through configuring the OS, creating an administrative user and creating a new domain. Make sure you get your chosen domain name correct, though, as this can't easily be changed later on. The Essentials Dashboard then helps with creating user accounts, setting up remote access, connecting clients and linking to Microsoft's Azure cloud storage and Office 365.
When it comes to setting up storage, WSSE R2 lets you go beyond standard RAID with Storage Spaces versatile pools of disks within which you can create virtual disks (VDs), with mirrored or parity resiliency and optional thin provisioning and deduplication. For testing, we loaded up the W4810 with three Seagate 10TB IronWolf NAS drives and created our volumes.
For best performance, we started out by creating a mirrored VD, then mapping a drive to it from an HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen9 Windows rack server. From here, we saw our 25GB file-copy test complete with fast average read and write speeds of 112MB/sec and 110MB/sec. Our backup test went well too, with a 22.4GB folder containing 10,500 small files copied to a share at 68MB/sec.
Parity volumes deliver slower write performance, being essentially software-managed RAID5 drives. On a parity VD, we saw our 25GB file-copy test complete with average read and write speeds of 109MB/sec and 62MB/sec. Transfer speeds for our backup test also fell, but not by too much: 52MB/sec is still respectable.
Accessing the W4810 is simplicity itself. Windows clients can simply point a browser at the appliance and download the Connector and Launchpad apps. We tested this with multiple Windows 10 clients, all of which promptly appeared in the Dashboard ready for action. The Launchpad software provides quick access to backups, shared folders, the Anywhere Access web portal and, if permitted, a remote Dashboard.
Backup features are excellent. The appliance supports a customisable schedule for backing up all connected clients, using fast VSS snapshots and block-level deduplication. A separate schedule lets you back up the server itself to external media.
File and folder restoration is again straightforward. We simply selected a client from the Dashboard, chose a backup job, picked what we wanted recovered and decided where to send it. If bare-metal recovery is required, you can create a bootable WSSE Full System Restore USB stick to rescue a client system.
We also tested the appliance's PXE network service, which allowed us to boot a sick PC into the WinPE recovery environment, select the latest backup and return it to active duty within 20 minutes.
Some IT departments may be considering holding out for Windows Server 2016, but that's an expensive step up: the Essentials edition (which supports the PDC role) costs nearly as much as the entire W4810 appliance. For small businesses, Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 offers all the key features, with good performance for mirrored VDs and automated client backup and recovery features making the W4810 an affordable and easily managed first server.
This review originally appeared in PC Pro issue 271.
The inclusion of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials makes the Thecus W4810 an excellent and affordable first server for small businesses, and strong backup and recovery options make it all the more attractive.
Desktop chassis 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 processor 4GB DDR3 RAM 60GB internal SATA SSD 4 x hot-swap SATA drive bays 2 x Gigabit Ethernet 3 x USB 3 DisplayPort HDMI S/PDIF audio External PSU Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials preinstalled 172 x 250 x 198mm (WDH) 2yr RTB warranty
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